Decisions Under Infatuation - Part II

Anatomy of Lust

Discover the biological effects of infatuation and learn how they impact our romantic relationships.

Biologically, infatuation causes us to experience a flood of hormones, such as oxytocin. It also provokes our brains to release neurotransmitters like dopamine and epinephrine. It is for these reasons that feel a “rush” when we interact with the person we’re attracted to.

In essence, our brain is stimulating the same reward centers that would be activated during activities like eating, sex, or even taking drugs. Dr. Helen Fisher, who has studied the “science of love,” has noted that infatuation, in some ways, resembles an addiction. Just like a person might become hooked on the “rush” they get from having a drink, winning a hand of poker or taking part in an extreme sport.

We can develop a learned association between a behavior of choice and the pleasant feelings that follow it. This is the same with an infatuated person.  A “certain someone” gives them this same type of “rush” — and they become “hooked”, like with an addiction.

Understanding how infatuation can be habit-forming helps us to explain why it can influence our decision-making process.

From a biological standpoint, it is unlikely that we would have developed a behavioral trait like infatuation unless it played a beneficial role in our lives. Bearing that in mind, most people do not become addicted to infatuation, not insofar as it impedes upon their everyday functioning. Oftentimes, people seek to develop a stronger, more stable relationship with the person whom they are infatuated with. This becomes less based on obtaining a short-term “rush” of pleasure, and more about developing long-term rewards (in the form of love).

Most of us have done or said at least one ridiculous thing around someone for whom we have experienced infatuation. We might also make up an excuse to talk to them or come up with an elaborate plan just to spend an extra few minutes with them. This is an expression of the habit-forming aspect of infatuation, and those types of actions show how infatuation can influence how we make decisions.

Someone who is infatuated might behave in a way that contradicts their own values, like having a one-night stand, having unprotected sex or even neglecting their responsibilities to their friends, families and work life in order to spend time with the object of their affection. These poor decisions can occur more easily with people who have already demonstrated difficulties with regulating their own behaviors and avoiding impulsive actions.

Unsurprisingly, these behaviors are somewhat similar to the actions of a person who is addicted to drugs, gambling, or other actions that carry a “rush.” Although we may not all endanger ourselves physically by having a crush, it is still important to monitor our own behaviors and perspectives as we experience the pull of infatuation.

“When we actively monitor our behavior and perspective as we experience the pull of infatuation, we are better equipped to remain our true authentic selves.”  

Indeed, infatuation can over-feed our notion of control by making us believe that we have found the “perfect partner”.

We can ensure that we are learning from and building on the experiences of infatuation, instead of making it the sole reason for striking up a relationship. Every person wants to feel like they are in the driver’s seat of their own lives, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to maintain self-control when dealing with others.

As with the emotional rush we get from infatuation, the pleasant feeling of having control over our relationships can be a form of self-reinforcement. It is important to remember that healthy feelings of control remain within the realm of the self only.

They are not dependent on the traits or actions of others. With infatuation, people sometimes run the risk of thinking they have found or even “earned” a perfect partner, while temporarily blinding themselves to the person’s shortcomings. Then, when the relationship’s true colors start to show, we run the risk of burning ourselves out trying to control everything to maintain that illusion of perfection.

As we pass through the infatuation stage, we tend to be less afraid of being rejected by our partners. We are more comfortable showing each other our true selves, being honest with each other and even acknowledging our needs and vulnerabilities. This is the groundwork for building a relationship that evolves with both partners through time and experience. But if we are simply focusing on always keep up a facade and acting like the perfect partner, we avoid the opportunities for honest connection.

By refusing to acknowledge the fact that the infatuation phase will naturally come to a close, we risk setting ourselves (and our partners) up for even greater disappointment down the line.

To avoid that type of negative outcome, must cultivate the awareness that infatuation is only as valuable as it is present (in the early stage of a relationship) and certainly not worth forming any basis for commitment. We simply cannot really discover if we are romantically compatible with someone else while we’re under the blinders of infatuation.  

Anatomically-speaking, infatuation can mimic an addiction but with proper awareness and education, it doesn’t have to lead us astray. Next week, we’re exploring the third segment of our Infatuation Series, “Avoiding DUIs (Decisions Under Infatuation)” where we explore how to act with clarity as opposed to impulsively.